From his childhood in Florida, Richard Walker has lived to do what he loves most: skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. In recent years he has added another passion, sculpting. The end result of his sculpting: eyewear.
He came to his career of designing eyewear eight years ago by chance. In the early ’90s, he started a delivery service for the fashion industry in South Florida. While on the job, Walker wore an Italian vintage wraparound sunglass he had found in Miami. The photographers, models and stylists he worked with were so impressed with his sunglass he decided to produce that frame. “But because the lens was mineral glass, I couldn’t reproduce the curve,” Walker says. “I started calling lens companies around the world and was told it couldn’t be done. Finally, I convinced an optician in South Beach to let me use his edger after hours to create the lens shape. Once I had the correct lens shape, I used clay to build the frame around the lens.” It took him six months, but the result was Bagel, his best-selling sunglass and the start of his eyewear company, Blinde Design Project.
Now headquartered in New York City’s SoHo, Blinde’s breakthrough came in 1998 when Walker was asked to create sunglasses for the main characters in the blockbuster “Matrix” film. He also designed the eyewear for the 2003 releases of “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Matrix Revolutions.” Additionally, he’s fashioned custom sunglass styles for the three leading actresses in the “Charlie’s Angels” movie and created the quintessential hero sunglass for the Lara Croft character played by Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film “Tomb Raider.” The sleek lines and smooth curves of Walker’s Blinde sunglass designs have become a staple in the wardrobes of top fashion and celebrity trendsetters and in the world of extreme sports. In 2003, Women’s Wear Daily nominated Richard Walker and Blinde Design for its annual Rising Star Award for emerging talent.
Even though it has been eight years since Walker created that first Bagel style, he has never strayed far from his original design concept of building a frame. Instead of the more common method of sketching frames flat on a piece of paper, he creates three-dimensional models. “I need to sculpt and feel the product on the face as I go along. I worked with clay until I moved to New York and discovered the wax mold process used in jewelry design,” Walker explains. “I now use aluminum formers that I had built. I adjust them to accommodate actual facial measurements and then I pour wax into them. This process allows me to make cleaner, sharper lines than can be made with clay. Sculpting is what I enjoy.”
Walker’s goal in designing is to create lifestyle product. “I design frames I would want to wear. All my clothes are tailor made. I have my own personal tailor and I make my own T-shirts because I can’t find any ready-made T-shirt on the planet I would wear. I have 15 pairs of one style of Levi’s. A guy in Argentina custom makes my boots. That’s my approach to eyewear design. I’m not creating fashion for the season. I’m trying to build a brand that will endure, much the way an artist creates a painting or a sculpture,” he notes.
To offer consumers the same personal approach he expects in the products he buys, Walker opened an optical store in July 2004 in his SoHo design studio. In addition to having a lab with state-of-the art equipment, three opticians and an optometrist available two days a week, the retail space was designed with a large area where people can and do skateboard. “We want to have a showroom-type atmosphere where we can get to know our customers.
We’ve also created a customized program so consumers can pick their own frame materials—horn temples with titanium fronts, for example—and colors from a selection of approximately 40 custom hues as well as the regular colors I offer my retail clients. Our goal is to walk our customers through the frame process,” Walker notes. “The public doesn’t know about the molding process. They don’t know rivets are put in one at a time. We want to share with people the reason it takes three months to make a frame.”
To help him with his goal, Walker has had a film made of the steps he goes through in creating eyewear. “Visually the process is beautiful. I like to use images to tell a story,” he says. Walker is also a photographer and shoots all his own merchandising materials and catalogs in black and white.
To complement his sunglass and ophthalmic line, Walker is developing a high-performance sport collection. “My sport product will be in the spirit of my other products. It’s my vision of sports. I would not wear a flashy red frame even if I were surfing,” he emphasizes.
The sport glasses, however, have polycarbonate lenses. His acetate sunglasses all are equipped with mineral glass lenses. “I feel glass provides the best optics. Maybe it’s my romantic vision of quality going back to the old B&L glass lenses,” he notes.
In fact, most of Walker’s design inspirations come from the past. “I go through all the thrift shops and Salvation Army stores in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and find the most incredible objects—like old-fashioned straight-edge razors with handles made of horn. I love large vintage eyewear. A perfect example is that wonderful black plastic rectangle Marcello Mastroianni wore in Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’ film.” Walker also gets a lot of inspiration from old movies, ’50s architecture and “cool” drawings from the ’30s and ’40s. “People really knew how to put themselves together in those days. It’s all very romantic,” Walker says.
If he weren’t designing eyewear, he would like to be—what else—a sculptor. “If I could do anything I wanted, I would work in marble and bronze and be the next Brancusi,” the designer notes. “But I create eyewear. I like pulling shapes out of material. I like that lens blanks are a perfect circle that can yield an actual lens shape. Shapes come out of me feeling my way through the design process.”